TikTok, REARC, and villainous dogs.

Greetings from the wintry streets of NYC, where the unlucky among us are bundled up against the elements, but our social media manager Charles the Dog is somehow on a “business trip” in LA:

On to the #content! 

Does your brand belong on TikTok?

A teen shoots off a playground swing into a pair of drop-crotch sweatpants his buddies are holding open for him. Teens stack themselves on top of each other like Jenga blocks. Teens blow chili powder into the shape of the word “ELF” in celebration of their favorite Christmas film of the same name, while the latest trap hit blasts in the background. Welcome to the video-sharing platform Tik Tok, the latest in a long line of Gen-Z-dominated social media apps that the olds and washed among us must scramble to wrap our brains around. It was the second most downloaded app of 2019; Sensor Tower estimates that it has been downloaded over 1.5. billion times.

In many ways, the app has a clear spiritual predecessor—Vine—but somehow, the Tiktok experience feels significantly more weird and chaotic. The content that floods your screen in the app’s main tab (“For You”) is determined by an obscure “trending” algorithm, rather than by who you follow. You’re constantly being transported into the living rooms, classrooms, driver’s seats, and meme-steeped fever dreams of extremely online strangers, with limited ability to control what is being served up to you. In this way, it can feel more like clicking through Chatroulette or some Black-Mirror-esque web platform than a normal social media app.

Lunacy and scrappiness are so crucial to Tiktok that brands have had a difficult time getting any traction. Not that it’s stopped them from trying—see, for example, the Chipotle #Boorito Halloween costume contest, or the collaboration no one asked for between Lil Jon and the Kool Aid man. Sponsored content began to appear on the platform last year, but the monetary benefit of many ads has been extremely hard to gauge, due to limited targeting ability and hard-to-analyze metrics (what does a “view” on Tiktok count for, anyway, if people are being forced to watch things?). 

We didn't ask for this. Did you ask for this? 

Currently, there seem to be two general courses of action open to brands advertising on Tiktok. You can either throw money at campaigns without really knowing if they do any good. Or you can be savvy enough to do the legwork and track down the 17-year-old influencers who would be simpatico for your brand—that is, doing sponsored posts that look native to Tiktok but drive awareness of your brand. 

Tiktok is trying to make the bar for entry easier for advertisers in 2020. They have a self-serve ad platform in beta right now, complete with a Creator Marketplace feature designed to help companies find influencers to work with. But while many advertisers want Tiktok to modify their tools to accommodate more traditional targeted advertising, others see potential downsides over time. Making the advertising on Tiktok more traditional could dilute the app’s appeal and ultimately lessen the profits that wilier companies can stand to gain if they are willing to put in the resources. 

“Part of what makes TikTok so great is that it feels very user driven…” PMG social director Carly Carson told Digiday. “If the curated content can stay true to the highly creative nature of current TikTok content, it could win. But if it’s just a replica of other apps’ approaches to curated content, it might fall flat [with] TikTok users.”

Tiktok is one of the hottest apps on the planet, but it’s going to take some determination, millennial smarts, and no small amount of risk for brands to figure out how to cash in on its potential. But for those early adopters who can convincingly how-do-you do-fellow-kids their way into a viral campaign, there’s plenty of benefits to be reaped beyond the jacked-up view counts and emoji bursts.